Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review, 'Rendezvous With Rama' by Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke. In the sci-fi history books (of which there are one or two believe it or not) he is regarded as a creative genius and something of a prophet. Recently I got the opportunity to delve into his universe with the critically acclaimed 1972 novel ‘Rendezvous with Rama’.

As is the case with most people, my first introduction to Clarke was being shown the film ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ when I was young…and not understanding it one bit. However, I think it’s true to say that those experiences often stick in your head the most and breed a certain curiosity in you. So, after breaking into the Isaac Asimov universe with ‘Foundation’, I now took on Arthur C. Clark. I spent the first half of the reading of Rama thinking that it was the book on which ‘2001’ was based. Where I got that information, I have no idea but thanks to Rob Agar and his in-depth film analyses, I found out that it was in fact a book called ‘The Sentinel’  which inspired ‘2001’.

See his brilliant analysis of the Monolith in 2001 here:

The story so far: We find ourselves with an omniscient narrator in the year 2130 and some foreign object has entered the solar system. As time goes on, astronomers who keep an eye on the approaching object begin to discern that this is something that cannot be of anything but intelligent origin. The object of speculation is a gigantic cylinder, some 50 kilometres long by 16 wide and perfectly smooth. The story revolves around the crew of the spaceship Endeavour who are sent to rendezvous with the object, named Rama after an avatar of Vishnu. Another prophecy of Clarke’s is that the Pantheon of Greek and Roman gods have all been used to name planets and asteroids so astronomers have moved onto the Hindu collection. What the crew of Endeavour discovers upon arrival is beyond belief: the cylinder is hollow (remember the world sized ring from the first Halo game?) and once they eventually find there way inside they discover, amongst many other things, the spin of the object creates a small artificial gravity. They resolve to explore the interior as best they can before Rama passes too close to the sun for conditions to be safe.

The book, which is split into many small chapters, each dealing with a certain subject or event, takes us through technicalities, future interplanetary political strife (Mars, the Moon and even Mercury has been colonised and have separate governments) and so much visual science fiction wonderment. Clarke’s power as a writer is not in creating poetry like Herman Melville, or perplexing characters like Asimov (that sort of sounds like I’m name dropping but whatever), his strength is the pure invention: you believe that everything he writes is possible, and in some cases, even likely! It’s no surprise that he is called a sci fi prophet, he would probably still be considered so even if he had never written about satellites in orbit as early as the 1940’s:

“He described this concept in a paper titled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?", published in 'Wireless World' in October 1945.” (Wikipedia)

This is a truly great work of sci fi, and of speculative fiction on the whole. It stands the test of time by remaining ahead of the game still, and it is barely dated, even in the language used. As with most great works of the genre, a film adaptation is (kind of) in the works, due for some time in 2013, but with no script it is unlikely to see the light of day that soon…but you never know.

Anyway, this blogger has got himself a second hand copy of the sequel, ‘Rama II’ and after a successful completion of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Mother Night’, (thanks Steve) I’m getting well into that!

‘Rendezvous With Rama’ by Arthur C. Clarke.
Rating: 9/10
By Edward Gerard Brophy for Born Again Nihilist 2011.

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